Saudi Arabia blocks UN inquiry into ‘war crimes’ in Yemen

Western countries have ditched plans for a United Nations-led inquiry into alleged war crimes by Saudi Arabia and others in Yemen, instead backing an investigation by the Saudi-allied Yemen government.

The move came despite rising concern at the number of civilians killed in air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition and indiscriminate shelling by the Houthi rebels. The UN reported on Tuesday that 2,355 civilians had been killed over the last six months. Britain supplies arms to Riyadh and there have been claims these could be being used to commit war crimes.

The Netherlands, backed by several Western countries, had drawn up a draft resolution instructing the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights to send experts to Yemen to investigate the allegations. However, after opposition from Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, this has now been dropped and Western governments instead accepted a resolution to support an inquiry set up by the Yemeni government.

Human Rights Watch condemned the UN Human Rights Council’s failure to create an “independent, international” inquiry, saying Yemen’s people would suffer. “Such a mechanism would have been crucial to confront continued impunity for crimes committed in the country… The increasingly desperate Yemeni population should not be ignored by the world’s pre-eminent human rights body.” All parties in the conflict had “committed serious violations of international humanitarian law”, it said, adding: “Houthi and allied forces have also repeatedly violated international humanitarian law, including by launching rockets into civilian populated areas in southern Yemen and across the border in Saudi Arabia, mistreating persons in custody, and recruiting children.”

Earlier this week Britain was accused of entering into a secret vote-trading deal with Saudi Arabia to ensure both countries obtained membership of the Human Rights Council. Secret Saudi cables, obtained by WikiLeaks, indicated the UK had asked the Saudis for support in elections that took place in 2013.

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